Noblesville’s Alaina Shonkwiler and Todd Thurston compete in Meals on Wheels’ inaugural competitive fundraiser
Under a disco ball and on an open dance floor, eight local residents will do their best to keep up with their professional partners. The potential embarrassment or bragging rights pale in comparison to assisting Meals on Wheels-Hamilton County during the organization’s inaugural “Dancing with Our Stars” event Sept. 4.
Beth Gehlhausen, MoW executive director, said the organization has been looking for a signature event for the past two years – something unique – when they came across the dancing fundraiser.
“We wanted folks with Type A personalities who don’t mind putting it all out there. People who are known in their communities – not a TV personality. We’ve got some amazing people dancing for us,” she said. “There is definitely competitiveness going on.”
Like the TV show, each star is paired with a professional dancer and has 10 lessons to learn a routine. Also like the show there will be a panel of professional judges critiquing the routine.
“It’s up to the pairs to decide what dance to perform,” Gehlhausen said. “We’ll have three different awards – a judge’s choice, a people’s choice based on votes received that night and an overall fundraiser award.”
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Gehlhausen said the organization mainly receives funds from grants and local trustees. Riverview Health provides office space so MoW has “virtually no overhead.”
“Almost all of the money raised goes into meals. Ninety-two cents of every $1 we raise is donated to the program. It helps us support those who are financially struggling,” she said.
Prior to agreeing to participate, Todd Thurston, 42, was just a little familiar with Meals on Wheels through his work as the business elite sales manager for Hare Chevrolet. He knew the Noblesville automobile dealership drove meals every other week and Gehlhausen from their various networking boards.
“I thought, ‘sure, why not?’ I’m big on giving back. I like to have fun and have a hard time saying to people. And I like the challenge. I don’t expect to go out there and be Gene Kelly or anything,” he said. “There’s not many things I do that I don’t have a blast at,”
While substitute driving for Meals on Wheels, Thurston said it was a chance phone call that increased his efforts to assist the organization. While talking with his father, Thurston learned his grandmother had meals delivered three times a week after his grandfather died.
“At that point it became more impactful to me. Now I’m giving back to an organization that helps my grandmother,” he said. “This organization impacted my family and I didn’t even know about it.”
Thurston and his partner, Diana Miller, will be dancing the foxtrot.
“The first question Diana asked me was my dance experience. I said, ‘Do I move my body to music? Than yes, I’m a good dancer,’” he said.
While Thurston does not know the waltz or rumba, he does have limited choreography experience from being in the show choirs at NHS and IU-Kokomo.
“I’ve been in some musicals and plays. I can be taught, just be careful what you teach me,” he said.
The 1992 NHS graduate said he was able to get 80 percent of the footwork down but is still working on his upper body movement.
“The biggest thing is the posture and form. That’s the hardest part,” Thurston said. “When I get done with a lesson I feel like I’ve gone through two-a-days football practice … You need a very strong core which I don’t have.”
Noblesville economic specialist Alaina Shonkwiler, 31, said she has no dance experience at all.
“I dance at weddings,” she said. “I got an e-mail from Sharon McMahon (asking to participate) and who can say no to her?”
Shonkwiler credits her partner, Rob Jenkins, to being ready to compete.
“It’s been more challenging to carve time out of my day with my job and two kids than it has been to learn the choreography. It’s fun to learn it and I’m challenging myself in a different way,” she said.
Jenkins, a 1993 NHS graduate, has been teaching dance the past 15 years after performing competitively for five years with his wife, Melissa.
“It’s a great way for me to give back,” he said. “I’m doing something I love to do anyway and helping out the community.”
Jenkins said the most challenging part has been the choreography.
“It’s a different way of teaching because you are immediately doing choreography and harder moves than I would usually teach a beginner. We’re trying to add as much flash as possible,” he said.
Shonkwiler and Jenkins will perform a lindy hop swing.
“At the first lesson we did a variety of different dances and techniques. We went through the whole gamut. Rob said my moves incline to swing dance so that’s what we’re going to do,” she said. “We had to choose the dance right away so he could begin to choreograph it.”
Shonkwiler said the curly whip dance step has caused her the most trouble.
“There are certain moves in swing that when done correctly have a great impact on the dance and I just couldn’t get my brain around this one step,” she said. “I’ve gotten it down now but it took three lesson and practice in my kitchen. I told my husband, ‘I’m doing something in the kitchen because I don’t cook.’”
Shonkwiler said she views her and Thurston as a race car team.
“We’re Team Noblesville. Of course we’re competing against each other in dancing and fundraising but we want what’s best for Meals on Wheels and Noblesville,” she said. “He and I participate in a lot of thing together inadvertently. He’s very serious and being a twin, I’ve competed my entire life.”
The “Dancing with Our Stars” fundraiser for Meals on Wheels Hamilton County is Sept. 4 at the Ritz Charles, 12156 N. Meridian St., Carmel. The evening begins at 6 p.m. with registration and includes cocktails and heavy hors d’oeuvres with performances from the eight dance teams and Circle City dancers at 7 p.m. Noblesville Parks Director Brandon Bennett will emcee the event. Tickets are $50. For more information, visit http://bit.ly/1kGTA6f.
Julie Schnieders & Ed Godby-Schwab – Schnieders is the executive director of the St.Vincent Carmel Women’s Center. She and her husband, Paul, have five adult children and four grandsons. During his 40 years, Godby-Schwab has choreographed Off Broadway in New York and is currently working with the Indiana University Purdue University’s Moving Company and operates his own studio in Lapel Indiana called The Dance Center.
Alaina Shonkwiler & Rob Jenkins – Shonkwiler, economic development specialist for the City of Noblesville, has been married to her husband, Jason, for eight years and the couple has two children. In her spare time, Shonkwiler hangs out with her kids and friends. Jenkins has been a dance instructor for 15 years. For five of those years, he danced in professional ballroom competition in the smooth division with his wife, Melissa.
Jeff Warner & Monica Lung – Warner and his wife, Karen, live in Fishers and have two adult sons. In his free time, Warner, a partner at Katz Sapper & Miller Business Advisory Group, enjoys watching sporting events and trying to get better at golf. Lung began teaching at 16 and at 19 she had a traveling professional ballroom competitive partner. At 21 she moved to California to be in the movie “Dance With Me” as an ballroom dance extra.
Todd Thurston & Diana Miller – Thurston moved to Noblesville when he started the fourth grade. He is the business elite sales manager for Hare Chevrolet. Thurston and his wife, Jennifer, have two sons. He enjoy playing golf, singing karaoke with his wife, and spending time with family and friends. Miller has taught ballroom classes at Christel House Watanabe High School for the past three years and continues to teach at the Fisher’s YMCA.
Jessica Rodgers & Xavier Medina – Rodgers is a wife and mother of six ranging in age from 16 years to 3 months old. When she is not chauffeuring or cooking, Jessica works full time as a Pharmacist at CVS in Westfield. Medina is an artistic director, choreographer and dancer originally from Marion. While studying at Indiana University, he had founded the IU Ballroom Dance Company which has continued to perform at various venues around the campus.
Betsy Russell & Scott Shook – Russell recently retired after practicing law for 30 years where she was a partner at Krieg DeVault LLP. She has always loved to dance but has never had any formal training. Shook is an independent ballroom instructor who teaches at Starlite Ballroom Dance School. He has 26 years of experience teaching American and International styles, as well as Country Western.
Gary Fammartino & Yulia Shook – Fammartino is married to his wife Suzanne who has her own Floral business “Love At First Sight Floral,” and together they have four boys. He has been with St. Vincent for 13 years and his favorite hobbies are golfing and gardening. Shook is an independent ballroom instructor who teaches at Starlite Ballroom Dance School. She has 1 years of experience teaching American and International styles, as well as Country Western.
Amy DeLucia & Chris Williams – DeLucia, a Fishers resident, spent a bulk of her career as a stay at home mom, raising three children. After spending years as huge fan of Allisonville Nursery in Fishers, she joined them as a sales associate. Williams, 21, is an entrepreneur, entertainer and life coach. In early 2014, he was a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance” and won a golden ticket to Vegas week.